It was 2001 when I went on my first silent retreat. By that time, I had been counseling for eleven years, been through six years of counseling, lived through what felt like excruciating years, and proved God in some really difficult moments. I was hungry for more, hungry for him. That’s how I arrived in England at a little village to meet with a woman I respected very much. Sitting down for our first meeting, I can’t tell you how important it was to me that she know I was hungry for God, so I told her how far I had come and that I had worked really hard to get there. I had a lot of words.

When I was finished talking, I remember waiting with a kind of inner suspension for what she would say. Would she see that I was ready for more? Would she affirm the work I had done? Would the regard that I longed for be given?

Finally, after what felt like a very long silence in which she just looked at me and I looked back at her she said, “You don’t know much about the love of God do you?”

In that moment, I was caught between what I wanted to be true and what was actually true.

With genuine warmth in her gaze, she offered me Hosea 11:1-4:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,

And out of Egypt I called my son.

But when others called him, he ran off and left me

He gave energy and affection to everyone but me.

I rescued him but he never acknowledged my help.

I’m the one who taught him to walk, held his arms when he stumbled.

But he didn’t know that.

I made sure he could manage the load but he never knew it.

He didn’t remember that I lifted him, like a baby to my cheek, and I bent down to feed him. (Paraphrase mine)

Through that time my understanding of my relationship with God shifted from “I have been loving him and he loves me back” to “He was the one that got me going at all. I wasn’t the one who managed to get myself to this place with you, God. All along it’s been you who brought me here.”

Now, through the years, another shift has been happening. A shift from, “How am I to find God?” to “How am I to let myself be found by him?” Instead, of “How am I to know God?” the truer question is, “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And finally, the question changes from “How am I to love God?” to “How am I to let myself be loved by God?”

It all begins with God, not with us. It all continues with God, not with us. I knew that, know that still. The journey is coming to believe it. Will I stop working so hard to be loved and just let Him love me?

God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.

–Henry Nouwen



  1. Coralee

    Jeanni, thanks for sharing this today. I remember when you first shared it with me and I was desirous for a relationship with such a women and that is what you have become. I am thankful for all I have learned from you and for letting me sit in your garden. Missing it today.:( But I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t experienced it. So heading out for my walk and to practice listening to the Lord even as I prayer walk my neighborhood.

    • Jeanni Shepherd

      Thinking of you with great love and affection, Coralee. It is women like you who have paved the way for me. I am deeply grateful. May you sense the richness of God’s love poured over you and all you’re involved with this Christmas season. Much love, Jeanni


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